You won’t believe how Apple’s dictionary defines “gay” and “Jew”

Apple is in a bit of a pickle over the discovery that its e-dictionary, which is the New Oxford American Dictionary, contains a derogatory definition for the word “gay.”

But with a little sleuthing, I found that the Apple dictionary also has a slur definition for the word “Jew,” “Welsh,” and “Polack.”

Of course, on further digging, all definitions are not equal.

Let’s start with gay:


Apple includes the slang/slur definition of gay, that’s usually used by kids, but sometimes adults too, meaning “stupid, dumb, foolish” or generally something you don’t like.  First problem? Apple says the word is “often” offensive.  Often offensive?  Sometimes it’s okay to say “that’s so gay” and it’s not offensive?  I’d be curious in what circumstance.

Let’s move on to “Jew”:


I’m intrigued that Apple includes the slur “to jew down” (a phrase I wasn’t even familiar with until I moved out to DC from Chicago).  Perhaps the Apple dictionary includes most slurs, I’m not sure.  Also, it’s interesting that in this case, there’s no “often” qualifying the “offensive.”

Now Welsh (or welch, as I always heard it as a kid):

apple-diciontary-welshInteresting that this one isn’t offensive at all.  Then again, I never even knew the word derived from the Welsh when I was a kid, and I don’t know too many Welsh people, so I don’t know if this is considered a slur or not.

Next, a word we definitely grew up with in Chicago, and definitely used as a pejorative:

apple-dictionary-polackApple does say that the word is “offensive,” but that is not the definition of the pejorative “polack,” or “polish” as we would say in Chicago to mean something that looks ugly, stupid, or doesn’t go together well, like clothing (in Greek, they use the word “Chinese” to mean the same notion).

Ok, this is interesting, Apple does contain the n-word:

apple-n-wordSo now it’s apparent that the dictionary does in fact contain slur words, and it does attempt to define them, and indicate when they’re offensive.  Even though in the case of “gay,” it’s only “often” offensive.

Wow, they’ve even got this one:


And yikes, after publication I decided to check on more word, and there it is:


Okay one more, since a reader joking asked if this word was in the Apple dictionary – it is:


Of course, that isn’t the entire definition, nor is it the entire usage of the slur.  In fact, they don’t even indicate the slur, they just indicate that it’s vulgar slang for the female genitals.  It’s far more than that.  Now, I’m not sure I want that definition even in there, but it is interesting that Apple is pulling punches on this definition, whereas in the others, mostly, they’re not.

Okay, so it’s clear that the Apple dictionary does contain slurs.  So I’m less troubled by the inclusion of the slur word “gay” by itself.  The larger question would appear to be whether slurs should be included at all.  I’m not wholly against that, if it is make clear that the words are in fact slurs.  The more I look at the gay definition, the more it looks like a typo – check it out again:


Why is the word offensive in italics AND in the middle of the definition?  It’s almost as if they weren’t trying to say “often offensive,” but rather “often foolish, stupid, or unimpressive” and threw the offensive mistakenly in the middle of the definition.  Did they mean to say “informal, offensive” and then give the definition?

And it gets even more interesting.  The young girl who first found the definition, was most upset because the definition didn’t say that the word is a pejorative expression, i.e., offensive.  But the definition does say that, albeit in an odd mal-placed way.

I had planned to be outraged on this one, but the definition isn’t wrong, and the dictionary clearly includes slur words for other minorities. The only problem seems to be the qualifier on “gay” being offensive, when there’s no qualifier on other words.

One last check on another word:


Hmm, another qualifier before the word “offensive.”  Or again, was apply trying to say that the word is “chiefly a male homosexual” and they were throwing the word “offensive” in the middle to make it clear that this usage was offensive.  But they don’t do that weird splitting the definition in half with other slurs, so why do with gay ones?

I think, if anything, Apple has a consistency problem with its definitions.   Fix that, and they’re probably fine.  Assuming you don’t have a problem with slur words in a dictionary to begin with.  Personally, I don’t mind the slur words. I do mind the definitions being inconsistent with regards to how they indicate offense. Any kind of double-standard would be totally gay.

(I’m told that in order to actually see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me – so say the experts.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Steve R.


    I assume from the byline that you take credit for writing this article? If so, the title of the article is hugely misleading. In the title you call this “Apple’s Dictionary”. This is in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary which Apple licenses. If you had done a quick check, you would see that all these definitions are verbatim from the OED website. For example:

    My disapproval of the title article stems from one of three assumptions I am making:
    1. You believed that Apple incorporates their definitions ad-hoc, and can pick and choose what definitions go into their dictionary and deserves the outrage. Or
    2. You believed that Apple created their dictionary, and owns the definitions of each of these words. Or
    3. You put “Apple’s Dictionary” in the title instead of “Oxford English Dictionary’s” because having Apple in the title would garner more hits for your website.

    The fact that this was branded “Apple’s Dictionary” in a big story (as you state, I didn’t find one and in fact if you type “apple gay dictionary outrage” in google, yours is the first website in the list), this is already a story about someone’s rage with Apple. You are just perpetuating that outrage, instead of adding any clarity. I therefore believe you wholeheartedly when you claim that you wouldn’t want to get in the way of someone’s daily outrage, because you are in fact contributing to it.

  • Bob Funk

    At last someone who knows what dictionaries do. They record the usage, the way people actually use the language. If you don’t like the usage, don’t blame the dictionary. Ignoring these usages would not stop them.

  • maria877

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    amazed that anyone able to make $7293 in a few weeks on the computer. web
    link http://www.bar29.cℴℳ

  • Vanor

    I don’t have Apple, so I tried Oxford directly:
    Cracker (noun)
    1a thin, crisp wafer often eaten with cheese or other savory toppings.
    2a person or thing that cracks.
    a person who breaks into a computer system, typically for an illegal purpose:computer crackers will push the outer limits of network security
    an installation for cracking hydrocarbons:a catalytic cracker
    3US offensiveanother term for poor white.
    4British informal a fine example of something:don’t miss this cracker of a CD
    5chiefly British a paper cylinder that is pulled apart at Christmas or other celebrations, making a sharp noise and releasing a small toy or other novelty.
    a firework that explodes with a sharp noise.

  • Vanor

    “some” of them, as you said. Which is indeed what would be the case if “usually” is applied. When we teach, for a visual, we indicate that “usually” means between 80% and 90% of the time. So that is MOST. But there are some that do not. It’s an adjective they heard their friends (who may have meant it hurtfully) to mean stupid, and now use it without thinking of the meaning. Hence, usually.

    And, again, that is not the dictionary’s fault, nor the fault of the people who write the dictionary. Look at the dictionary to see how culture and language is. A dictionary that does not include hurtful language and a comprehensive meaning of words isn’t helping society. It’s hurting it and, more importantly, it’s a bad dictionary.

  • cleos_mom

    So where’s Apple’s definition for “cracker”? It ought to have some entertainment value at least.

  • Matt Rogers

    I’m not convinced that the kids you mention have divorced the word “gay” from its meaning. It seems to me that some of them are deliberately making an oblique reference to gay people. Even if they’re not, speakers aren’t the only people who are involved in the use of language. So are listeners, readers, writers, and arguably, the people who overhear. Some of those people are dead because they’ve been bullied too often.

  • Jon

    I am more offended by the fact that “literally” can now officially mean “figuratively” according to the dictionary.

  • Gerry Leddy

    what has it got for ‘mitake’, I make many typo ‘mitakes’
    Smiles – the longest english word, a ‘mile’ between the first and last letter
    One = a number all fone’s or phone’s end in

  • Mark_in_MN

    Praescribo and proscribo are both formed of two parts, the scribo part common to both words, and the prae and pro portions that begin the two words. Prohibit is from prohibitus from prohibere which combines pro- (before, forward, etc.) and habere (to hold). The meaning of the English word prohibit and the Latin word prohibeo (or prohibere if one is using the infinitive instead of the present active form) align very closely. “Hold beforehand” is simply the meaning of the word’s roots, which help explain its origins and base meaning from which the history of usage and development of meaning stems.

    You’d be wrong about the “educated” people who pronounce nuclear as nu-klye-lar don’t know what a nucleus is. I’ve heard physicists and chemists pronounce it that way, people who know full well what a nucleus is. I think that pronunciation is definitely not to be preferred, but it is one that is common. It’s not a mere error in pronunciation, but a different pronunciation. It would hardly be the only word in English that isn’t spelled how its pronounced (how about knight, for example?) Whatever your evaluation of that pronunciation, it is a common one and should therefore be listed in dictionaries. It would be improper for them to leave it out, for it doesn’t accurately reflect the language as it is actually used and spoken.

    The alternative English plural of octopus (that is, octopi) is certainly formed improperly if it were being formed in Greek. The common plural of syllabus, often used as syllabi, is also an incorrect formation with respect to the rules of Latin from which the word came. Neither of those forms are the plurals in Greek or Latin. But they are plural forms in English. One might regard them as forms to be avoided, involving a misguided pastiche of their language of origin, and being based on ignorance of how those languages actually form plurals of those words, but they are used in the English language as plural forms. It is thus right and proper to include them in dictionaries. It would be wrong and improper to exclude them because you, or even many, regard them as “wrong” with respect to their Latin and Greek origins. But we are talking about English here, not either of those Classical languages, so we cannot expect things to always conform with their rules and forms. Not so conforming does not make them wrong, merely different. This is part of the same misbegotten approach that resulted in the abominations of prohibiting split infinitives and sentences ending with prepositions. English grammar and usage accepts those while they are nonsensical in Latin and Greek, indeed those formations in English can convey meaning differently than the supposedly “correct” way insisted upon by the grammarians of old.

  • karmanot

    The horrible irony is that he or she being burned might have been gay.

  • karmanot

    Catch up on your DNA studies.

  • Ninong

    Where did you find “before” in a Latin dictionary in the meaning of praescribo or proscribo?

    And I still don’t understand how English thinks that prohibit literally means to hold beforehand when it Latin the word simply means to forbid, hold back, restrain, and any number of other possible English meanings, but I’m surprised to learn that in English it means to hold beforehand. Do you have a breakdown on its Latin etymology?

    As for the pronunciation of nuclear, those “educated” people who don’t understand what a nucleus is and that nuclear is the adjective of nucleus are more ignorant than they know. They’re probably the same people who think that octopi is the plural of octopus. As a Greek scholar, I’m sure you know better.

    Unfortunately, because a sufficient number of ignorant people think octopi is the plural of octopus, it has made its way into English dictionaries, too.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Yet Latin dictionaries feature “before” as a meaning in both cases. Strange, those dictionaries must be, then.

    As to the pronunciation “nucular” for nuclear, Miriam-Webster has not removed it. It’s still there when you look it up online today. This is as it should be. If you asked me how to pronounce it, I’d say nu-klee-er. That has preference because of the words origins. But to not include nu-kye-ler would be inappropriate and inaccurate, since it is a fairly common pronunciation, including amongst educated people. It’s not just GWB and other yokels that pronounce it that way.

  • Ninong

    Miriam-Webster online actually listed the George W. Bush pronunciation of the word nuclear as an alternate pronunciation in spite of the obvious fact that it bore no resemblance to the actually spelling of the word itself. Finally, after they could no longer bear the ridicule, they deleted it. That was several years ago during the Bush administration.

    What you call Latin prefixes often have more than one meaning in Latin depending on the word they’re part of. Sometimes the same prefix can have a completely different meaning. English, unfortunately, is not as nuanced as Latin. I have no clue how English came to believe that “prae” and “pro” mean before. I’m just trying to set the record straight and point out that the original Latin words did not mean “before” anything.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Talk to Miriam-Webster, who breaks the etymology done to just such levels. The Latin words contain those prefixes which both mean “before” Prohibit contains the same prefix in English and its Latin predecessor., and literally means to hold beforehand.

    Nevertheless, the real aim of the so-called prescriptivists of the English language is really to proscribe those uses of the English language that the deem contrary to whatever made-up grammatical rules and vocabulary preferences they seek to impose from their prefered elite group or form, and denigrate those who by circumstance or choice use so-called non-standard English.

  • Ninong

    Of course, they’re not interchangeable in Latin, I’m not so sure about English.

  • Ninong

    What? “To write before”?? How do you get that? “Before” has absolutely nothing to do with either of these words.

    Both words are directly lifted from the Latin in their entirety from the Latin verbs praescribo and proscribo. Praescribo means simply to write (inscribe) and proscribo means to ban, to outlaw, to write against. When the Dictator wished to outlaw something, he proscribed it and his flunkies would rush out to announce it loudly to the people that such and such was proscribed.
    Another similar Latin verb would be prohibeo: to prohibit, forbid.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Greek is my ancient language, but dictionaries list both of those words as meaning “before” and “in front of.” Whether they can be used interchangeably in Latin is really beside the point, for that’s a matter of grammer not sense, at the basic level mean the same thing.

  • Monoceros Forth

    prae and pro are not the same, simple as that. “But the roots in each word simply mean ‘wright before.'” No they don’t! Certainly those roots are not “interchangeable” as you asserted.

  • bozhidar balkas

    according to godologists, ten tribes of israel evanesced completely; so, how can an admixture of euroasians trace their ancestry to people who ceased to exist ca 28centuries ago?
    true, not all israelis may have perished or been assimilated by assyrians, et al, but that doesn’t prove european ‘jews’ have any connection to the ‘vanished’ ten tribes of israel.
    even all judeans haven’t fled from or left judea; however, most of the judeans fled for dear life or were expelled to mostly arab lands in 70AD.
    burt arab jews are indeed shemitic, but not ashkenazim.
    ashkenazim are whites; shemites are no whites!

  • NoBigGovDuh

    Ok someone has been scrapping the Urban dictionary site instead of licensing an actual dictionary.

  • John Aravosis

    You asked. (seriously)

  • John Aravosis
  • John Aravosis

    Well, lawyering things to death has generally served me well in terms of the accuracy of the advocacy I do. I have a pet peeve with people who do activism, outrage, especially in the Internet age when everyone’s an activist, and who don’t really think through what they’re getting so upset about, and thus end up generally getting upset about something the person didn’t actually do. A little more lawyering would have prevented that :)

  • John Aravosis

    Good lord, next time might I suggest that you read the story first before issuing the usual semi-anonymous Internet outrage about something I didn’t even write :) Had you actually read my article, you’d have found out that this is already a big story, thus the reason I’m weighing in, and in fact, I end up absolving the dictionary of most of the accusations.

    But hey, I wouldn’t want to get in the way of someone’s daily outrage :)

  • tim f.

    Good lord you are annoying. It’s a dic-tion-ar-y! Dictionaries include offensive words.

  • Angst in Berwyn

    I agree. And the multiple uses of words considered offensive in one way but not others is more expansive. I was taken aback while reading a collection of the earliest Andy Capp comic strips where Andy and his cohorts used the word “fag” as slang for a cigarette.

  • dcinsider

    This was posted on Towleroad and without the fuller explanations provided by John. Given that they include the top ten ugly slurs, I see this as a non-issue. It’s a dictionary, not a textbook.

  • Duke Woolworth

    Actually, a faggot is the bundle of sticks to be lit under a person to be burned at the stake.

  • rmthunter

    And because they’re still being used offensively.

  • rmthunter

    I think what you’re calling “prescriptive dictionaries” more properly fall under the heading of “style sheets,” which are specific to certain fields and/or publications. Their sole purpose is to set a standard for usage. The ones I’m most familiar with are Chicago (which everyone alters, even though they use it), MLA, CSE, and AP.

  • rmthunter

    “. . . growing up one of my favorite pastimes was opening a dictionary to a page and just read about the words.”

    Ditto — compounded by the fact that my dad was a teacher and one of his summer jobs was as an encyclopedia salesman. I guess it’s no surprise that I became an editor

    As for Windows Word and the 4th-5th grade writing styles — last time I checked, the general reading comprehension level among American adults is that of a 5th grader.

  • rmthunter

    Checking out the etymology, I found this — there does seem to be a connection, although at a remove or two:

    faggot (n.2)

    “male homosexual,” 1914, American English slang (shortened form fag is from 1921), probably from earlier contemptuous term for “woman” (1590s), especially an old and unpleasant one, in reference to faggot (n.1) “bundle of sticks,” as something awkward that has to be carried (cf. baggage “worthless woman,” 1590s). It may also be reinforced by Yiddish faygele “homosexual,” literally “little bird.” It also may have roots in British public school slang fag “a junior who does certain duties for a senior” (1785), with suggestions of “catamite,” from fag (v.). This also was used as a verb.

    He [the prefect] used to fag me to blow the chapel organ for him. ["Boy's Own Paper," 1889]

    Other obsolete senses of faggot were “man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at muster” (1700) and “vote manufactured for party purposes” (1817).

    The oft-reprinted assertion that male homosexuals were called faggots because they were burned at the stake as punishment is an etymological urban legend. Burning was sometimes a punishment meted out to homosexuals in Christian Europe (on the suggestion of the Biblical fate of Sodom and Gomorrah), but in England, where parliament had made homosexuality a capital offense in 1533, hanging was the method prescribed. Any use of faggot in connection with public executions had long become an English historical obscurity by the time the word began to be used for “male homosexual” in 20th century American slang, whereas the contemptuous slang word for “woman” (and the other possible sources or influences listed here) was in active use. It was used in this sense in early 20c. by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, among others.

  • rmthunter

    “Subjective”? How so?

  • rmthunter

    John, your lawyer is showing — you’re parsing this to death. Yes, it looks as though in the case of “gay” and “faggot,” the “offensive” was added later, and on the fly: it’s in a different font and there is some missing punctuation, but I don’t think most people are going to come up with all your alternative readings — it’s fairly straightforward. (Although there should be colons in there, as in “offensive: stupid. . . .”)

    As to whether offensive terms should be included in a dictionary, yes, of course they should. The purpose of a dictionary is to reflect the language as it is, not as we think it should be, and it’s perfectly legitimate to include notes on usage (i.e., “pejorative” or “offensive,” although I would opt for the former rather than the latter, which is a little too PC to carry a lot of weight). Gods help us when the information nannies start censoring dictionaries. (Besides, how would school boys get their illicit giggles? Or maybe I’m dating myself.) You’re absolutely right about the “often offensive” note under “gay” — either that usage is offensive or it’s not. There’s not a lot of wiggle room there.

    Next teapot. . . .

  • goulo

    NOT recording a word of the language just because it’s offensive would be dumbing down the dictionary.

    Including all the common the words of the language is the correct thing to do.

    But it should note pejoratives more consistently instead of saying that racist slurs are “offensive” while anti-gay slurs are only “often offensive” or “chiefly offensive”.

  • goulo

    The definition is correct. The label “often offensive” or “chiefly offensive” for anti-gay slurs is what’s being questioned. Why is it unequivocally “offensive” to be racist, but only sometimes offensive to be anti-gay?

  • goulo

    Monoceros, you’re overlooking that the dictionary has separated out those definitions. The non-negative meanings (attracted to same sex, and happy/fun) are not marked as offensive. The specific definition of gay as a derogative (“that’s so gay” = “that’s so stupid”) is marked as only “often offensive” instead of “offensive”.

    Or are you saying that this specific usage (“stupid”) is possible to use without negative connotation? If so, I’m skeptical…

  • goulo

    It seems to me that the uproar is not about the presence of the words, but about the fact that the non-gay slurs are noted “offensive” while the anti-gay slurs are only noted “often offensive” or “chiefly offensive”, as if it’s never OK to be racist, but it’s sometimes OK to be anti-gay.

  • goulo

    Don’t ruin his two-minute hate with logic! :)

  • goulo

    Why shouldn’t it be in an English dictionary? It’s part of English, for better or worse. If you want your English dictionary to exclude words which were adapted from other languages, then your English dictionary would be empty.

  • goulo

    As you know, words often have multiple meanings, so I’m not sure what purpose is served by a statement like “As John knows, faggot is a bundle of sticks”. It seems like interrupting with “As you know, a mouse is a small mammal” when people are talking about computer peripherals. :)

    In any case, I rather suspect that plenty of racist anti-Polish people know perfectly well that “polack” comes from the Polish noun (not adjective, by the way) for a Polish person. They simply don’t like Polish people (sadly) and so (for them) calling someone Polish is (ipso facto) something negative. Rather like “gay” being pejorative for many anti-gay people.

  • quax

    As a non native speaker I support these slur words being included, after all when you first encounter them you need some place to look them up. They need to be clearer in delineating offensiveness though.

  • chrism

    Apple’s English-language dictionaries are licensed from Oxford University Press. Not only does Apple not write the dictionaries, but I would imagine they’re precluded from making any changes to them by the terms of their licensing agreements. It’s highly unlikely that a dictionary publisher, especially one as storied as OUP, would allow a licensee to change the definitions of words. How little control Apple has can be seen in the fact that they have to maintain a separate custom dictionary for technical terms like AppleTalk (an old networking protocol) because they don’t even have the rights to add words to the licensed dictionary content.

    The dictionary is integrated into the operating system and changes with major OS revisions. I have 10.9 (the latest version of OS X) installed on my desktop Mac, and 10.8 on my MacBook. The dictionary in 10.9, which uses an edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary from 2012, has the ‘often offensive’ qualifier, while the one in 10.8, which uses an edition of the same dictionary from 2010, doesn’t. Maybe the lexicographers at Oxford will decide to qualify the pejorative use of ‘gay’ as always offensive in a later edition, but whether they do or not is up to them and not Apple.

    The only thing I can see to fault Apple for here is that they’re slow to integrate newer editions of dictionaries into their OS, though that too may be related to licensing terms. (Probably not, though — they’re also irritatingly slow to integrate the latest versions of git, apache, and other open-source components into OS X.) I suppose they could use a different publisher for their English-language dictionaries, but I’m not sure any other publisher wouldn’t have the same problem with definitions some people find problematic.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Yes, I used the wrong word if you take the dictionary prescriptively. But you’ve merely picked the definition that would make it look most ridiculous. That definition is rarely the one used. Prohibit is the more common usage for “proscribe.” But the roots in each word simply mean “wright before.” But in this case, “proscription” seems to be much more fitting for those who would dictate rules to other speakers of the English language. They forbid the language as it is really spoken in order to advance their own particular agenda, style, or preferred elite.

  • Hue-Man

    1. These are the same people who unleashed Apple Maps and prompted John’s comment from August: “The “new” Apple Maps also placed my DC condo in the middle of the ocean,
    just north of Antarctica (I have a screen grab I saved of that one, for

    2. A widely distributed dictionary is an important tool for non-native English speakers to avoid offensive or obscene vocabulary. Here’s a Monty Python classic of what can go wrong – in this case a Hungarian-English dictionary.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Writing up directions for proper treatment of some disorder is “interchangeable” with writing up a list of persons to be killed? Damn. English is a treacherous language.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Well, the Latin roots would make the two interchangeable, to write before. Why they aren’t is baffling. And I think “proscriptive” is a better description of what those who would set the rules are really doing.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Prescription is not proscription, I feel compelled to point out.

  • Monoceros Forth

    The linguistic connection between “fag” (homosexual) and “faggot” (bundle of sticks) has never been proved. But then you’d know that, being such a one as i
    to hurl about accusations of ignorance of language, hm?

  • Mark_in_MN

    As you point out, the majority of dictionaries (and the most widely seen as authoritative, for that matter) take a descriptivist tack to their work. I think that is the proper approach to creating a dictionary. Oxford’s approach is descriptivist, as is Merriam-Webster. Yet many people erroneously approach these dictionaries as if a dictionary were inherently proscriptivist in intent. And then they get bent out of shape when they find an offensive word or definition (as here), as if its inclusion somehow gives it official sanction.

    The question for any dictionary that tries to be proscriptivist is what authority they have to set what is right and wrong in English. Unlike some languages, we have no official body that acts as its keepers. What standards are they going to use? Almost certainly it’s going to be a highly educated perspective (and one that would look down at those who use the language differently as insufficiently or ill educated even if they are native speakers with high academic attainment). If we talk of American English, it’s probably going to also privilege words and usage of the northeastern sector of our nation. It’s almost certainly the language as spoken by people of European dissent. If we are talking British English, it probably will tend toward Southern England and London (as the language long has) and posher versions thereof. In other words, proscriptivists tend to support the language of elites as “correct.” There may be times and contexts that it’s important for anyone to use such a variety of the language, but it’s hardly any more or less “correct” than how the language is spoken by people across the English speaking world.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. If these definitions were accurate or sensitive it might be different. I guess it’s important to remember that dictionaries in general are subjective.

  • Matt Rogers

    I think they added the “often offensive” label only after someone complained. It didn’t seem to be there when I first read about this story.

  • Matt Rogers

    Yes, they filter imperfectly from several other dictionaries.

    I think the issue for most commenters isn’t that Apple labels these words offensive per se. It’s that they label them “often” or “chiefly” offensive when gay people are the targeted group, but drop the modifiers for other groups such as African Americans and Jewish people.

  • NCMan

    have they stopped using “gay” to mean “weird”?

  • Matt Rogers

    I think it’s alright to include slurs in a dictionary, as long as they’re identified as slurs. Where I depart from Apple — and the Oxford English Dictionary, which Apple apparently borrowed from — is the double standard of asserting that anti-gay pejoratives are sometimes inoffensive, while pejoratives for other groups never are. Which bring up the question, how do Apple and the OED treat ant-trans pejoratives?

    I’m also concerned about presenting this definition in a dictionary marketed to youth, especially at a time when bullying, including the use of this definition, is a real problem in schools. People are taking their own lives, and Apple seems willing to contribute to the carnage.

  • trinu

    Excuse me. I used it twice before you pointed it out, and not at all afterwards. If you’re calling my usage of the term hypocrisy incorrect, I suggest you look it up in a dictionary.

  • BuddyNovinski

    As John knows, “faggot” is a bundle of sticks used to burn at the stake. However, Polak is really an adjective for a single male in Polish: Jestem polak. A woman would say, Jestem polka. The noun is different because of the case system in Polish: Jestem Polkiem, which for some reason takes the instrumental case after the “to be” byc verb. All the use of this pejorative “polack” shows is that the speaker is ignorant of the language.

  • Matt Rogers

    That depends on the dictionary. Prescriptive dictionaries lay out usages that are considered correct. Descriptive dictionaries — the majority of widely used English-language dictionaries — report the language and how its words are used by knowledgeable people.

  • TheAngryFag

    Well, you were told you were using the wrong term and you used it again. As an educator, it’s my job to expand your knowledge.

  • trinu

    You don’t hate doing it, so stop saying that you do. It’s hypocrisy.

  • perljammer

    I’m sorry. As Far As I Know, everybody knows the meaning of AFAIK ;-)

  • RobT

    when my kids were in grade school in the late early 2000’s – the first time I heard them use the word gay was in this context… “Johnny at school is so gay.” Really.” I said. “Yes. Really gay.” Perplexed I said, “You mean he likes boys like boys instead of girls.” “Oh God no.” “He’s just weird.” Now the good news is that they are all in the early 20’s and think it’s great their gay friends can marry.

    We worked together for a long time not to use the word gay as dumb, stupid or weird.

  • TheAngryFag

    I hate doing this but…

    Denotation – the literal or primary meaning of a word, in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests.

  • TheAngryFag

    The images above have those labels in them. If they did not have them before but have them now then the correct edits have been made.

  • Mark_in_MN

    So, to whoever down voted that, I have to ask: On what basis do you justify keeping words that are actually used in the language, even if sparingly, out of a dictionary because they are deemed offensive by most people? In other words, why should these words not be in the dictionary?

  • Mark_in_MN

    They’ve been in dictionaries for a while, too.

  • karmanot

    The original meaning of ‘twat’ is this: what the last thing a bug sees when it hits the windshield. # snark

  • Anonymous

    These words have been used offensively for a while. Why add them now?

  • karmanot

    and haole.

  • Mark_in_MN

    That may be true, but the word gets used, or has been used in sources that people may still see or hear. If you don’t know the word and hear Archie Bunker use it in an old All in the Family episode, your out of luck if the self appointed language police have insisted it be removed from dictionaries because its regarded as offensive, vulgar, and a slur. The utility of dictionaries goes down markedly if we start to pick and choose which words are worthy of being included based in things like acceptability in polite company or the “correctness” of a word or definition as perceived by some educated, privileged class.

  • karmanot


  • karmanot

    Well done

  • mirror

    I tried look up AFAIK in the online dictionary, but got no result. Then I just punched it in to a straight google search. Success!

  • mirror

    Don’t we have a standard neutral English word for someone of Polish descent? A Pole? [First Known Use: 1535]

    Interesting, John, as a northwest coaster, I’ve only know the pejorative meaning of Polak to mean the way Archie Bunker used it, as a slur against people. I didn’t know it also was used as a put down for things. And I never heard a live person use the term to describe a person until a friend move back west after 8 years working in construction in
    Chicago. Regional racism is an interesting thing.

  • Steven Jaeger

    I think having them in the dictionary as offensive terms serves the purpose of a dictionary. It’s not just the usual usages but also the uncomfortable, bad, offensive, vulgar and obscene terms. This way one can see that they are not to be used in normal conversation. Anyone who uses an OED recognizes their categorizing of the words listed here. The editors of the OED and it’s subordinate dictionaries are VERY careful of word placement in their definitions. One problem with the OED is that due to it’s size, generally it tops out at about 23 encyclopedia sized volumes. Cutting down meanings and information for the smaller ones such as the NOAD may give less accuracy and since the overall editorial staff has to work letter by letter to update the main dictionary, the definitions and placement of commentary (offensive v often offensive) labels may not change as rapidly as the words usage changes in everyday speech. Even though the OED is available digitally it has not been generally updated piecemeal such as wikipedia, but systematically to make certain each word is properly updated in time and meaning. That is why you see the discussion about the history of the use of words. That is hallmark of the OED, they trace usages through time and location often giving quotes of first known usages as they change. I’ve had an OED for 20 years and used it extensively over those years, Unfortunately the tiny print is now giving me a headache, so I’m needing to buy the online version. I have tried MW, American Heritage, etc but go back to OED, and I still use Roget’s Thesaurus to aid in accuracy of my language.

    Yes I am weird that way, growing up one of my favorite pastimes was opening a dictionary to a page and just read about the words. One of the problems with the younger set who is used to using just smart phones, etc for their language skills is that they have had a distinct drop in language usage and knowledge of words, The average middle schooler’s vocabulary has dropped by a couple of thousand words according to some of the school teachers with whom I’ve discussed this problem. They instead use the same word and don’t go to the more nuanced words to give their writing and speech more pizzazz.

    I’ve also noted the grammar checking in Windows Word products has been designed to 4th or 5th grade writing styles, Only simple sentences, no compound, complex or compound-complex sentences are allowed. The grammar checker says those type sentences are ‘difficult to understand’. Try it sometime and see for yourself.

    So overall, my thesis is that simplified dictionary entries are used for simplified minds and writing styles, and sometimes those who actually can understand complex writing catch them out in inaccuracy.

  • mirror

    Well…then maybe they should look up “pejorative.” in the dictionary! I firmly believe a dictionary for adults should be intended for the use of people with all levels of education. That said, it should not itself be dumbed down for people who simply don’t want to take the time to use a dictionary. This is even more true now that everyone uses online dictionaries. Took me less than 30 seconds to open a dictionary site and find the definition of pejorative. Would have been faster if I had the site open already.

  • John Aravosis

    Yeah I was wondering about that as well – if anything, it’s archaic in modern English, at least modern American English, to use the word polack to describe someone Polish.

  • perljammer

    AFAIK, the conventional wisdom is that the reason most white folks aren’t offended by being called ‘honkey’, is that there is no evocation of a history of oppression.

  • mirror

    That what is so awesome about white privilege! If you want your anti-white slur to be taken seriously it has to connote some kind of lower ranked subset of whiteness.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Dictionaries do not “approve” words. They report the language and how it’s words are used.

  • Anonymous

    Worth noting that the word “polak” is only inoffensive if actually used in Polish (and not spelled “polack”). It shouldn’t be in an English dictionary at all.
    Truly amateurish editing.

  • Anonymous

    Since “twat” refers to a “stupid person” under this new dictionary, I’m afraid to look up “cocksucker”!

  • Anonymous

    “A person regarded as stupid or obnoxious?” Oh, that’s rich.

  • NCMan


  • Anonymous

    If they’re going to put these words in the dictionary (again, offensive words with NO inoffensive uses) they may as well allow them in English classes. After all, these words are reference guides for schools, and the usual guideline was to use “dictionary-approved” words.

  • NCMan

    except, they have only included the “often offensive” statement in the 3rd definition which is specifically the definition of the “that’s so gay” usage and has nothing to do with any other inoffensive or neutral uses. That’s why they didn’t list definition 2 as offensive.

  • trinu

    It is if you use it to mean happy or homosexual. Using it to mean stupid is another thing, and the only definition, which they denoted as “often offensive.”

  • Monoceros Forth

    To repeat the point I’ve made earlier: it is possible to use “gay” as an adjective without any negative connotation. (Not “denotation”, as you mistakenly say.) It is absolutely impossible by contrast to use “jew” as a verb in a neutral manner. There are many legitimate uses of the adjective “gay”; there are no legitimate uses of the verb “jew”. Is that really so difficult to understand?

  • Tom

    It’s not “Apple’s dictionary;” they’re clearly just using content from the widely-published New Oxford dictionary. See, for example

    Your issue isn’t with Apple; it’s with the publisher of a popular dictionary.

  • MyrddinWilt


    Its the New Oxford American English dictionary according to Wikipedia. But likely it has been condensed and abridged to fit on the devices.

    I prefer my OED, I bought the print version when Amazon had a sale a long time ago now.

  • Monoceros Forth

    In reflecting on the “often offensive” (emphasis mine) designation in the Apple dictionary entry, maybe there’s nothing worse in the choice of words than this: “gay”, as an adjective, has many inoffensive and neutral uses, while “Polack”, “kike”, and so forth have no uses at all that are not offensive. The same is true to a lesser extent of the word “faggot”–although I myself would never use the word “faggot” even in its neutral and literal sense.

  • trinu

    A lot of people aren’t upset at including the words in the dictionary, but at the fact that they attached qualifiers to the word, “offensive.”

  • Sam

    Also you all know Tim Cook is gay? I’m sure he isn’t behind a secretly homophobic dictionary. What idiocy, I love americablog but come on. This is amateur hour stuff.

  • Sam

    This is such a silly thing to waste time one it’s a dictionary. I’m gay. I am glad apple includes the definition of all words in their dictionary, otherwise what the hell is the point of having a directory of word definitions? There are plenty of situations where people would need to know what these offensive words mean. I’m gay. I’m out. This is just a waste of time.

  • heimaey

    It’s hard to find honky and paleface insulting. As a white person, I’m sorry but it’s just dumb. And if someone calls me that, I”m probably going to laugh.

  • heimaey

    I know. It’s offensive to the core, and when I see it thrown around like nothing, it hurts. But how do we fight something like this: ?

  • nicho

    Well, if I were looking up an unfamiliar word in a Spanish or French dictionary, I would appreciate it if they noted that it was often used and that it was considered offensive. If I were not alerted to that, there’s a chance that I could hear it used and then use it myself without knowing that what I was saying was offensive. The elderly grandmother of a friend heard someone use the word “cocksucker” to denote that they didn’t like someone. She had no idea what it meant, but the next time she was pissed off at someone, she called them a cocksucker — much to the horror of some relatives and the total amusement of others.

  • Monoceros Forth

    “So, they are saying that sometimes you can use the phrase ‘that’s so gay’ in a non-offensive way.”

    My boyfriend–let me stress, my same-sex boyfriend–has occasionally used “gay” as a term of disparagement. It surprised me a bit the first time he did. He is from a somewhat more youthful generation than I, however.

  • trinu

    Gay came to be used to mean stupid BECAUSE homosexuality was taboo enough that calling a person “gay” (meaning homosexual) was used as an insult.

  • Mark_in_MN

    The Apple dictionary is (or based on) the New Oxford American Dictionary.

  • heimaey

    I also think that many people don’t think of gay as offensive – or fag for that matter. I often wonder if I’m fighting a losing battle sometimes. On sites like Reddit, you often see things like “OP is a faggot” (Original Poster) and you try and tell people you’re offended and you are ganged up on like a gigantic version of grade school.

    And not just straight people, but gay people throw this word around like it’s nothing and they consider the two different meanings very separate and distinct. If you tell them otherwise, you are treated with ridicule and scorn.

    To some extent I agree. A word is only as offensive as you make it. But I was called faggot enough as a kid to not feel comfortable with people calling me that or using it as an insult in any way. It’s extremely offensive to me. I find it painful and sad that it’s used so much and so often, but it’s an uphill battle…

  • Mark_in_MN

    The uproar is misplaced. Dictionaries describe how words are used. They are supposed to be tools for checking the meaning of words one is unfamiliar with. They do not proscribe the language to us, but far too many people think a word or definition being in “the dictionary” gives it some official stamp of approval.

  • kingstonbears

    1. fruit, mostly delicious
    2. corporation, mostly offensive

  • Indigo

    A faggot is also a bundle of sticks and, out of curiosity, did they reference the bizarre term “Indian giver”? Although a dictionary should include all verbal usage and slurs are a part of verbal usage, do they also include “honkey” and “paleface”?

  • NCMan

    My problem is that they used the qualifier “often” instead of just offensive. They didn’t feel the need to use a qualifier when defining jew, kike, ni@@er, polack. So, they are saying that sometimes you can use the phrase “that’s so gay” in a non-offensive way. But, they are also saying that you can NEVER use any of these other terms in a non-offensive way.

  • Drew Humberd

    It’s a dictionary. They can probably look it up.

  • trinu

    The point was that the gay slurs were the only ones, which had qualifiers attached to the “offensive” denotations.

  • TheAngryFag

    A dictionary’s job is to be a mirror of language and how it is used. Apple’s defining of the words, denoting them as “offensive” and “vulgar”, is correct with how they are used. We don’t have to like it, but integrity means we have to have them in there.

    Removing the words from the dictionary won’t change the usage. If we want them removed, we need to change the language itself.

  • TheAngryFag

    They mark it using terms like “offensive” and “vulgar” which actually communicates the idea better because lots of people won’t know WTH pejorative means.

  • NCMan

    they would be doing the right thing if they actually noted it is pejorative. But, they don’t.

  • NCMan

    They just ADDED the wording “often offensive” after the girl complained. It wasn’t there when she saw the definition initially.

    And, I have a problem with them saying only “often” instead of going further and defining it as pejorative.

  • Brian Stroup

    I’m curious what you think the other meaning of “Twat” is because I couldn’t find any additional definitions online.

  • heimaey

    They are reporting it correctly. I don’t have any issue with their definitions. The reality is that people use these words offensively; are we supposed to ignore that?

    Also are they apple’s definitions or are they pulling them in from somewhere else? I don’t imagine they have a team that goes over specific words (I could be wrong). It seems like an outsourced/3rd party definition that gets filtered in?

  • Monoceros Forth

    The sad thing is…the job of a dictionary is accurately to record the usage of language, and the use of “gay” as a pejorative adjective is too widespread to ignore. They are doing the right thing here. It’s awful, but what else can you do?

  • BeccaM

    Oxford New English and Mirriam-Webster these folks sure ain’t.

    What I’m seeing as I read through those various slurs is a decidedly Anglo-Euro patriarchal and white bias. I mean, let’s be fair: The ‘n-word’ isn’t considered derogatory when used by members of the African American community among themselves. As for the ‘c-word’, sorry, nearly always ‘offensive,’ not just vulgar slang.

    And then there’s the amateurish failure to include the other more traditional definition of ‘faggot’ or ‘fagot’ — meaning a bundle of sticks. (Or in original slang, how ‘fag’ esp. in Britain referred to a cigarette.)

    Honestly — and I say this as someone who loves language and has studied it all her life — I don’t think ever I’ve seen a dictionary this bad, this amateurishly produced and edited.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Dictionaries track the ways that words are used. If a word is used in that way they put the definition in the dictionary.

    Incidentally, ‘Welshing on a bet’ has absolutely nothing to do with Wales. The etymology is from horse racing and a couple of bookies called Welch who were known for taking a large number of bets on a race and then doing a runner after the wrong horse won and they couldn’t pay up.

  • John Aravosis

    N-word is there, it’s in my story. And at your request, just checked “twat” – it’s actually in there. Just added it to the story.

  • Anonymous

    Of course it’s wrong. Just an effort to dumb down the dictionary for today’s generation, attempting to sell more copies.
    Also – the proverbial question, would they do this for the n-word? Or is it just fashionable to be anti-gay and anti-Semitic, as always?
    Did they put “twat” in too?

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